Morning is rough after too much vodka. We surface at lunch time and are served breakfast of omelette and coffee by the lovely Julia. We enquire by laptop translator about staying another night, being too hungover to ride bikes to Russia today. We are invited to go out for the afternoon with Igor and Julia. First, Igor does wheelies up the street wearing only shorts. It’s cool in a crazy Kazakh way. He offers me a go, but it’s a fantastically expensive machine so I decline. Then we find ourselves crammed into a 4×4, hurtling out into the countryside down dirt roads through fields and forests,until we arrive at a riverside spot for a picnic. This is not normal behaviour for a hotel owner towards his guests, but is somehow "standard for the stans". The picnic will require a fire to roast some chicken, so naturally a chainsaw is produced to cut some trees, and a blowtorch to light the fire. Then a large bag is opened and instead of the folding chairs i expected, out comes an inflatable boat complete with outboard motor. Cue an afternoon surrounded by russian chatter and laughter, beer glass constantly refilled, our host thrusting food into our hands at regular intervals, and messing about on the river. Surreal.
This was going to be another day with nothing to report but long hours in the saddle, cruising through miles of featureless plain with nothing of interest, until we hit Semey and by chance happen upon a hotel run by a motocross nut and then everything changes. The hotel seems brand new, we are the only guests, the place seems more like the owner’s party pad than a hotel. The whole place is behind secure gates and walls. We pull our bikes into the double garage and see that the owner has a BMW HP2 megamoto, which is a very expensive toy. He also has a couple of 4x4s. After a couple of days wild camping and being dirty from working on the bikes, the luxury of the brand new bathroom is very welcome and nothing like the horrid soviet decay we expected to find in any hotel in this town. Later we are invited to join the owner Igor, his friends and his girlfriend Julia for beer, vodka and pizza. The bar and restaurant area is equipped with big screen tv, sound system, computer and huge billiards table, and is quite clearly where he does his entertaining. Communication is via an online translator on a laptop. He shows us his motocross photos, and we show our trip photos. There is much fun, laughter, and the vodka flows freely and endlessly, each glass being downed in one after a quick toast. Music blasts from the entertainment system. A traditional Turkish style water pipe is brought out and we all share the strawberry flavour tobacco which is remarkably smooth and easy to smoke. It’s all a bit surreal, and is a huge contrast from just a few hours earlier when we were riding through inhospitable terrain, tired from riding all day and failing to find anywhere to camp. It’s amazing how quickly things can change on this trip. After a while the vodka becomes to much and i have to go to bed. I get the impression they’ve only just started, and i’m sure that while i will wake up with a hangover, they will be perfectly fine.